Posted by: harrisonjones | August 29, 2011

New Airplanes

The Boeing 787 has completed all certification tests and will make its first passenger flight in September. The  Japanese carrier ANA will be the airline with the honor of the inaugural revenue flight.

Photo by Boeing

There is something very special about flying a brand new airplane, fresh from the factory. The paint is unblemished, the aluminum reflects like a mirror, and the cockpit and cabin looks and smells new. Coffee has yet to be spilled and food trays have yet to be dropped. The logbook documents only test and delivery flights.  

I had the great privilege of flying the first passengers on several newly delivered airplanes during my career and  it was always a very special feeling. My very first flight as an airline captain was just such an occasion. I had just finished MD-88 initial training as the most junior captain on the airline and had the ATP type rating in my   pocket, dated yesterday. Crew scheduling called and asked to speak to Captain Jones, which was my first thrill of the day. They informed me that one of our flights in Tampa had cancelled due to a mechanical problem and I would ferry an empty airplane to pick up those passengers and bring them to Atlanta. My first flight as a captain would have no passengers. An inauspicious beginning to a long and colorful saga.  

I met the copilot and informed him that if he let me screw up I would never let him forget it. We found our empty airplane and discovered that it had just had its initial maintenance checks after being delivered from Long Beach. The first lesson I learned as a captain was the value of flight attendants. Since we were in Atlanta, and our cabin crew was in Tampa, we would be alone and unassisted. The flight attendants normally do the cabin preflight, but we were confident that we could accomplish that on our own. What could be so difficult about that? We found all the safety equipment in all the proper locations and retired to the cockpit to play pilot. 

Life is good; I’m sporting a shiny new airplane around the international airport and I don’t have to impress  anybody but the copilot, who probably wouldn’t be impressed if Yeager was in the left seat. We did the before takeoff checklist and I left the cockpit door open since there was no one back there and I wanted to use a little captain’s authority. After two weeks of ground school, a week in the simulator, and a rating ride on the airplane, I’ve seen it all and I’m confident I can handle anything. That is, until I pulled the nose up to rotate for takeoff. 

What happened next is what I’ve come to remember as the galley wars. Unsecured aluminum coffee pots were being lobbed into the cabin like hand grenades. Unlatched galley doors were opening and dropping food trays like cluster bombs on the battlefield. Utensils were ricocheting off the walls like small arms fire and I glanced back to see a can of beer and a jar of olives going at each other on the floor just outside the cockpit. This was not covered in training! None the less, I composed myself enough to give my first airborne order as a captain. “Uh…gear up!” 

Once we were cruising, the copilot went back and put everything away. He closed all the doors and drawers he could find and then double checked everything again. When we landed there was only one small battle and a few minor skirmishes. There must be a thousand latches in the galley and only the flight attendants know where they all are. I have suffered galley phobia ever since. Send me out in thunderstorms, snow and ice, cross winds, turbulence, mountainous terrain, no autopilot, but please don’t ever dispatch me without flight attendants again.     

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Responses

  1. Sounds like our first RV trip with the kids to the Black Hills and Yellowstone. The older camper didn’t have the proper latches on the cupboards and a few fast curves sent stuff flying out of the cupboards and onto the floor and the refrigerator door came flying open. Thankfully no liquids were spilled.

    It must be awesome to take a new plane up for the first time, kind of like taking Dad’s first brand new car for a spin around the neighborhood. He told me I couldn’t drive it because it was a manual and didn’t know how to drive one. I said oh yes I do..W.hat do you think boyfriends are for but to teach you new things. I had to take Dad for the first trip around the block to let him know I wouldn’t leave his transmission sitting somewhere along the way.

    • When I was 15, I desperately wanted to impress a 16 year old girl who thought I was 16 also. I took an unauthorized trip in my dad’s straight stick Ford to show her how cool I was. When the cops stopped me for doing 50 in a 35 zone, the whole plan fell apart. I got a ticket for driving without a license, the girl found out I was only 15, and the judge ordered me to get a license when I turned 16 and immediately bring it to her office where it would reside in her desk for 30 days. All’s well that ends well. Dad eventually forgave me and I married the girl a few years later. Our youngest grandson will be 15 next month and has already started lobbying for a Jeep with four in the floor. If he hears this story, I’ll adamantly deny every word.

  2. Harrison, great post! Especially your comment above! By the way, I think you got off easy. I could not imagine a 15 year-old doing the same today without almost getting a lifetime suspension of driving privileges. I will have to use this in class — it is a great lesson for all the new pilots who want to be airline pilots.

    • You’re so right, Joe. If a 15 year old did that today he would probably either be placed on the no fly list, or else declared an illegal alien and imported. Diane enjoyed the post also. I’m still being held accountable.

  3. Too funny Harrison. Sounds like my oldest son and you are cut from the same cloth. I took his license, car and privledges away for a month the day he passed his license. He has a 1981 Pontiac Firebird that he painted like a race car. White in color with electric blue racing stripes from the center front of the car over the top and to the back. He drove it like a race car driver too. We got a phone call from the local sheriff to tell us that the car was too much of a car for someone his age.

    • And we all know that sheriffs are like captains. They’re always right, some of the time. (as opposed to moms who are…)


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